"The Squirrels," a world-premiere black comedy, at La Jolla Playhouse. Photo by Jim Carmody
Squirrels are neither cute little critters nor scavenging tree rats in Robert Askins’ allegorical play “The Squirrels.” What they are is human at humankind’s worst: conniving, combative, even racist. This depiction makes for a gnawing black comedy with actors sorta clad as squirrels engaging in lust and bloodlust all for the want of nuts. Naturally, this signifies more, but Askins’ script is smart enough to resist easy contemporary illusions. In fact, there’s a sense of traditional Greek drama in the portrayal of his warring Gray and Fox Squirrels, and, turning Elizabethan, the play’s tragicomic despot figure (a Gray Squirrel named Scurius) suffers a Lear-like deterioration.
La Jolla Playhouse’s world-premiere production of this new work by Askins, best-known for the outlandish Hand to God, is brisk, loud and mildly graphic. Director Christopher Ashley’s ensemble includes Candy Buckley, the reason to see last year’s Kill Local at the Playhouse, and Broadway veteran Brad Oscar, The Squirrels’ antagonist who doubles as an emcee/scientist. Unfortunately, the 85 minutes it takes to make Askins’ sociopolitical points is excessive, even for a one-act show. That leaves a story populated by characters that frolic and shout a lot, but the laugh lines (enough already with the mucking jokes) are strained. (Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 6/20/18.)
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat